Shelter killing: how low can you go?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:

SAN FRANCISCO––”Total dog and cat euthanasias dropped below 3,000 for the first time in San Francisco history,” SF/SPCA president Ed Sayres told ANIMAL PEOPLE on January 20.

The 1999 toll ended at 2,916, Sayres said––2,834 at the city Department of Animal Care and Control, and 82 at the SF/SPCA.

And in San Francisco, “euthanasia” really means what the dictionary says it does: a death administered to relieve pain and suffering. Healthy dogs and cats have not been killed in San Francisco since 1994, when Sayres’ predecessor Richard Avanzino negotiated the Adoption Pact with the SF/DACC, to guarantee a home to every healthy dog or cat whom the SF/DACC cannot rehome or place.

In recent years, as vigorous neutering outreach has steadily lowered SF/DACC dog and cat intake, the SF/SPCA has also accepted increasing numbers of treatable sick and injured animals. Of the 4,825 dogs and cats the SF/SPCA placed in 1999, including 2,220 accepted from the SF/DACC, Sayres noted, 2,611 “required medical and/or behavioral treatment and intervention,” and another 475 were more than five years old.

Dogs and cats killed by San Francisco shelters and animal control contractors have been tallied almost every year since 1868. The SF/SPCA handled animal control for 84 years, beginning in 1905, but turned the contract over to the SF/DACC in 1989, after a five-year phase-out, in order to concentrate on neutering and promoting adoptions.

“The SF/SPCA altered 8,356 dogs and cats in 1999,” Sayres said, “92% of them free and/or free with a cash-back incentive of $5.00” given to people who bring in feral cats, pit bull terriers, and Rottweilers.

The dog and cat killing ratio in San Francisco shelters, already the lowest of any major U.S. city, fell 24% in 1999, Sayres’ first year, to just 3.9 animals killed per 1,000 human residents. That’s less than 25% of the California and U.S. norms; 11% of the norm in Atlanta, which at 34.7 has the highest shelter killing ratio of any major metropolitan city; and well under 10% of the ratios in such cities of comparable size (less suburbs) as Oklahoma City, Tucson, and San Antonio.

The San Francisco data significantly lowered the floor ratios below which dog and cat euthanasias per 100,000 human residents have never gone.

The table below shows in the first column the 1999 San Francisco ratios of dog and cat euthanasias per 100,000 human residents for each major cause; the second column states the 1998 ratios; and the third column gives the estimated “ceilings” for unavoidable euthanasia in a city with a normal rate of shelter intake (set at twice the 1998 San Francisco rate) and the policy of killing “no healthy animal” which San Francisco followed during the first year of the Adoption Pact:

Killed by SF/ACC 1999 1998 Ceiling

Treatable sick dogs .30 .50 1.00

Treatable hurt dogs .08 .08 0.16

Underaged dogs .06 .06 0.12

Behavior dogs .70 .80 1.60

Treatable sick cats .32 .38 .76

Treatable hurt cats (negligible)

Underaged cats .44 .63 1.26

Behavior cats .80 1.33 2.66

Untreatable 1.08 1.22 2.44

Untreatable SF/SPCA .12 .12 .24

TOTAL FOR S/F 3.90 5.12 10.24

This table can be used by any community to estimate how many euthanasias the local shelters might still have to perform after implementing a no-kill policy and strategy following the San Francisco model.

The numbers of unavoidable euthanasias can in turn be used to estimate how many dogs and cats a community could save if––for instance––it got grant help for livesaving programs via Maddie’s Fund, the $220-million foundation set up by PeopleSoft founders Dave and Cheryl Duffield to promote no-kill dog and cat control , headed by Avanzino.

For example, the human population of Atlanta (excluding suburbs) is 400,000, so the multiplier to use with the ratios above would be 400. The ceiling numbers of dogs and cats whom Atlanta might be killing for cause would be:

Treatable sick dogs: 400

Treatable injured dogs: 64

Underaged dogs: 48

Behavior dogs: 640

Treatable sick cats: 304

Underaged cats: 504

Behavior cats: 1,064

Untreatable euthanasia: 976

TOTAL FOR ATLANTA: 4,000 (10.00 per 1,000 human residents)

Subtract 10.25 from the 34.7 dogs and cats Atlanta is currently killing per 1,000 residents and multiply by 400 to get the number who could potentially be saved by implementing an Adoption Pact: 9,880.

Then efforts to save the treatables could cut the number further, to a probable floor, based on the present San Francisco numbers, of about 5.12 per 1,000 residents.

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